Sunday, July 5, 2015

In A League of its own : The Pilot Custom 823 Review

The Custom 823 pens have always been highly captivating demonstrators from Pilot Corporation (Japan), sporting the second largest nib (Pilot#15, Namiki#20 nibsize), with a vacuum plunger filling mechanism. The model number 823 refers to the price and year, of launch, although in a slightly intricate manner. Since this pen was released in the year of 2000, 82 years after the company’s inception (i.e. 1918), it carries the first two digits of the model number as ‘82’ and the last digit which is ‘3’ refers to it launch price of JPY 30,000 (3 X 10,000).

The Custom 823 (for the Asian market) comes packaged in a standard pilot gift box (Z-CR-GN) which might not draw much attention, quite unlike the pen. The US merchandise comes with a silver sateen lined gift box with a complementary (hey! not really folks) bottle of Pilot/Namiki Ink-70 (Blue). The pen of course is a hot star. A golden label with a model number and nib specs is tagged to the clip. The box carries a user manual for a Type P fountain pen, which does mention keeping the knob slightly unscrewed (at a 2 mm distance) relative to the metal ring, while writing.


The Custom 823 comes in three standard designs of transparency - Amber, Smoke and Clear resin, all with gold plated trims. The resin material seems substantial and feels heavy. A silver trimmed version may be a nice thing for many fountain pen nerds including myself. I went for an Amber one with a medium nib and find it quite challenging to resist getting another Smoke version, with recently slashed prices in Rakuten/Ebay. 

The Amber demonstrator given its lightness, is capable of bedazzling you even with a tiny bit of moonlight. A golden dazzle along the three bands and the clip, subtly delivers the rest. The finials at the cap along with the piston knob conclude the design with a rather brownish opacity.

The cap feels substantial and unscrews with one and a half turn, revealing the elegant yet simply designed pen. The grip section is moulded from the same brown resin as the cap-final and the piston-knob, and another golden ring segregates brown grip from rest of the body. The amber demonstrator does reveal the steel rod with a plunger seal mechanism.

The cap does mention a few things etched across the broader of the concentric golden bands, including the model name CUSTOM 823 and PILOT MADE IN JAPAN with six stars of separations.  A thinner band above renders some more aesthetics to the overall design. The clip  is tension fit and it encompasses a vertically embossed PILOT within its golden sheen.


The brown piston knob unscrews from the golden ring till an end stop, post which the plunger unit can be pulled out. The rod is made of stainless steel and is resistant to most of the commonly used inks. For IG (Iron Gall) and Pigment Inks, care must be taken to clean the pen several times, to prevent clogging or deposit accumulation inside the ink passages. 

The pen fills to more than two-thirds its capacity, once the nib is dipped in ink and the plunger is pushed back in. This can result in an instant gush of ink inside the barrel with a comfortable volume of ~ 1.4 - 1.5 mL, which could last for several days. Though getting some more ink into your pen is quite possible.

Cleaning the pen is a similar ritual accompanied with some shake and I suggest you do it on a regular basis, for the ink stains if left may look ugly with time, and might require a light ammonia solution to go-off.

And as mentioned in the manual, while writing with the pen, you would need to keep the piston-knob slightly unscrewed (at a 2 mm distance) relative to the golden ring. This will displace a conical valve seal below the piston seal to allow passage of ink to the feed. Given the high ink capacity of these pens with plunger type filling mechanism, this has been done to prevent ink-leakage. And this is a nice thing to have, if you intend to carry the 823 in a flight.

For a rather crazy and complete fill, you do have a workaround. With the nib pointed up, you can pull out the plunger of a partially filled 823 and then by slowly pushing the plunger inside, you would get the air-gap between the inverted ink-levels and the visible end of barrel-section minimized. Once the inverted ink-level reaches the visible end of the barrel, you can submerge the nib in the ink bottle and push the plunger in. Voila! Done. This process may result in some ink escaping to the threads of the piston knob, but again you can repeat the same process with water/cleaning solution and shake a little to wash it off. 


The nib is friction-fit and comes in a standard 14k monotone design across three stock widths - F, M, B (and some specially ordered custom widths of FA and WA). The nib has a standard pilot design.

 The tail end of the nib specifies the month and year of manufacture. An elongated hexagonal imprint separates the design from the outer shoulders and tines with an arabesque decor running inside its circumference, encompassing the circular breather hole in between. 

The branding and nib specifications of PILOT, 14k-585 (58.5% Au Alloy) along with the nib size and width, which are imprinted below the breather hole.

A standard bluish grey plastic feed with thin fins and a decently sized feeder hole delivers the amazing ink suction.


With a transparent resin body in form of a traditional cigar shape, it does give a comfortable feel of length. The cap itself weighs 10 grams which makes it top heavy if posted. The overall weight of the 823s have thus a significant (one-third) contribution from the cap. There is then a comfortable grip section with around 1.1 cm diameter. 

  • Uncapped Length ~ 13. 2 cm
  • Posted Length ~ 16.4 cm
  • Nib Leverage ~ 2.4 cm
  • Overall Weight ~ 29 g

A capped and uncapped comparison with few of the standard large pens like Visconti Homo Sapiens Maxi, Pelikan m805 and MB 146 is posted below for your reference.


It retails at around USD 288, and as usual it’s available at lower street prices towards a band of USD 200. I had got the pen at a cost of USD 220 at that time, which I thought was a good bargain. This year Rakuten sellers made it look lamentable by selling 823s at less than USD 190, inclusive of shipping!


This 14k nib has a wet flow, albeit a hint of softness like the custom 74. The nib is springy and lays a somewhat wider line with pressure. There is no significant variation among the horizontal and vertical strokes. These wet lines take almost 15 secs to dry a Sailor Jentle Sky High on MD paper.

Thank you for going through the review. Hope you had a good time.

More pen and paraphernalia reviews here.


  1. The brown translucent resin is beautiful, the pictures like ever crisp and clear poisonous to the eye and mind of every revie reader. The nib is a nice big #6 and beautiful looking. Great review. Congrats on the Amber one and the future smoke version too

  2. This may indeed be the finest mass produced fountain pen available today. I have two and love them. Thanks to Neil Gaiman for putting them on my radar.

    1. Most certainly, plus the Larger nib makes the writing so enjoyable :)